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The benefits of constructive feedback

Who doesn’t like to hear that they’ve done a good job? The obvious answer here is that we all yearn for and are filled up by encouragement and praise. Conversely, no one really enjoys being critiqued or, worse, criticized, but there’s value in learning and growing through learner feedback. Giving intentional, meaningful feedback is an essential skill for effective communication and being an exemplary educator. In the context of the classroom, delivering student feedback is crucial. Let’s explore tips for doing it successfully.

Be Specific with Learner Feedback

Positive affirmations don’t mean a lot if they’re generic and unclear—“good job” or “well done,” while friendly, aren’t particularly useful. Rather, feedback like: “It was really great how you came into the classroom, put away your things, and got right to work” or “you’ve really understood the order of operations for these math problems, and it shows!” are clear and specific. These statements take slightly longer to compose, but they also mean so much more. Now, the actual activity is understood and repeatable.

When providing general feedback, being specific matters even more because it’s educating the listener on what is incorrect by redirecting instead of responding emotionally. “Standing on your chair in the lunchroom is unacceptable” is far different from “you’re being foolish.”

Make It Immediate

Have you ever received a score on an important test long after taking it—perhaps so much so that you forgot what it was even about? The feedback loop is irreparably broken, and the lesson is lost in time. Instead, consider how you can offer feedback in a timely manner so that the learner remembers the experience and can make a meaningful change. Expedite your grading practices when you can, and address the whole class early if you’re noticing a theme. If you know you can’t get to specific feedback as quickly as you would like, try elevating an exemplar inside of your next lesson to allow students a chance to evaluate what’s working and learn from what’s not.

Consider All Forms of Feedback

In this Cambridge University Press article, the author reminds us: “Every time we speak or listen to another person, in our tone of voice, in the words we use, in the silences which we allow, we communicate feedback. . . . We cannot not give feedback.” This is an excellent reminder that non-verbal cues, written notes, and verbal conferencing are all forms of feedback that likely take place daily inside your classroom and, therefore, should be carefully examined. Consider each in turn, and vary the style and volume of feedback through every method for maximum impact.

Prioritize Positive Learner Feedback

One specific strategy to intentionally prioritize encouragement is to train your brain to narrate positive behaviors when you’re tempted to focus on just the opposite. Statements like: “I see that Dimitri is copying down the homework in his planner” or “I notice that Julia is cleverly using the word wall to support her spelling” make a big difference in classroom culture. By altering the ratio of positive to negative feedback, you’re also making it clear to your students the procedures and academic skills that are expected.

There are many benefits of constructive feedback at each stage of the instructional day—during a lesson, amidst a small-group session, in the couple of minutes after class, and certainly, as students prepare for any large (and potentially stressful) assessment. Be honest, be kind, and be respectful, and then feedback can make a long-lasting impact in the lives of your students.

Want to learn more about ways to leave a lasting impression on students and build your students’ self-esteem and confidence in the classroom? Take a look at our blog post on 5 Strategies to Help Boost Your Students’ Self-Esteem and Confidence.

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